No one has forgotten the unfortunate events that occurred in the House of Commons last November: a vote on fracking became an informal vote of confidence in former Prime Minister Liz Truss and we witnessed manhandling and bullying in the lobby — ITV News at Ten anchor Tom Bradby called it “utter chaos”. Parliamentary democracy in Britain is ill, as our country keeps sinking into a cost of living crisis and the light at the end of the tunnel grows farther. For the first time, polls indicate that a majority of Brits want to rejoin the European Union.
There is indeed a stark contrast between the state of British democracy and the European Union’s forward-looking attitude. This 19 May, French President Emmanuel Macron was in the European Parliament to answer questions on electoral reform from members of all political groups, from the far-left to the far-right. An instance of true, living democracy. The Guardian spoke to President Macron about the future of European democracy.
For Mr Macron, it is urgent to address Europe’s democratic deficit due to the rise of far-right populism. He describes far-right parties as ‘pretenders’, who claim to include the working class and the unheard, while in practice they are more exclusionary. Mr Macron wants to implement transnational lists at European Parliament elections. To the question of whether he would fear a far-right majority in the European Parliament, he answered simply: “I believe in our citizens, as I hope they believe in me”.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger infamously once asked “Who do I call if I want to talk to Europe?”. Currently, defining Europe’s top job is a rather complicated exercise, as Ursula von der Leyen, President of the Commission, and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, have overlapping functions. France’s 5th Republican constitution gives a great deal of power to the President, who is directly elected by the people. Mr Macron would like to see a similar character in European politics: a strong leader for the continent, who people can look up to. In his discussion with Members of the European Parliament, the French President confessed his conviction in the Spitzenkandidat system — whereby the leader of the winning pan-European party in European elections becomes the President of Europe. But Mr Macron does emphasise on the importance of Parliament. When asked if he would approve of adapting the French semi-presidential model to European institutions, he acknowledged that while it suits France well, some other Member States have different methods, and mentioned the German federal system as the ideal template.
Another element of the proposed electoral reform is enabling Europe-wide referenda, which raised the eyebrows of members in the right-hand side of the assembly, particularly the Italian Lega, who expressed their concerns over a potential breach of national sovereignty. To Mr Macron, on the other hand, this tool is essential to bring European institutions closer to citizens. We Brits know the power of referendums all too well; the last one we held took us out of the EU. Emmanuel Macron has once and for all taken note of Brexit. To him, the UK has to address its own issues first before requesting to join the Union again: “You can’t just come and go”.
— Claire Duplessis, Brussels correspondent